It was Maximus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and philosopher who once remarked “Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?”
Indeed Rowan Mc Ewen’s destiny was QRC’s, and QRC’S was Rowan’s. This young man, diagnosed with Autism at three years old, entered our college in 2015, earning his place through success at SEA. Entrance to his school of choice was sure to create numerous challenges. However, the only options available to the College were to learn about his condition and establish systems that would allow us to vault the hurdles that we knew would come at different stages of this journey.
Mainstream, traditional institutions such as ours were never created to deal with “differently abled” students. Indeed, in our country we are seriously lacking in this area! We have no facilities, or easy access to trained professionals to guide us as educators, as we engage students such as Rowan. The Royalian community was boldly entering a new frontier.
However, we were never daunted. There was uneasiness, apprehension and a lot of uncertainty at times. At the same time though there was excitement, empathy, patience and support, which allowed us to successfully combat the few rough times that we encountered. As Principal, I sought to get the entire staff (teaching and non-teaching) and student population to become invested in this challenge. I was able to so do by being frank and open with everyone. Meetings with teachers, assemblies with the student population and discussions with his classmates were held, as we strategically planned for this unique educational experience. As a community, we learnt from his mother, his aide and other professionals about Autism, its challenges and the systems we would need to incorporate to successfully include Rowan in our institution.
Rowan’s teachers were open to advice from his mother and aide, both of whom became an extension of our staff. They (the teachers) also created a learning environment among themselves, and shared experiences and strategies used to teach him. A safe space was created for him outside of our General Office, and the entire Office Staff became his guardians. This network of persons at the school allowed us to remain in touch with him, allowing us to readily respond to any challenge he may face, on any given day.
It must be noted that at QRC we saw Rowan as a normal and regular student of the College. All of our students are special, and Rowan was no different. As a community we did not hear “disability”. On the contrary, we heard extraordinary “ability”. We were tasked with the identification of his abilities. Once that was done, we were then required to provide opportunities and safe spaces for him to develop, as a young adolescent male.
It was this philosophical, but yet practical, approach to Rowan’s education that saw him become a Scout and get involved in music. He remains a devoted member of the QRC Scout Troop and continues to engage in regular scouting activities. This young man was actively involved in the school’s Sports Days, and marched for his house. Involvement in these co-curricular activities allowed him to expand his comfort zones. It became a norm to see Rowan being a part of QRC’S rhythm section, at all home football games. At the College he simply was never limited, for he was always encouraged to pursue his dreams and aspirations. We simply believed in him. It was this confidence in him that allowed him to blossom and achieve in all areas in his school life. His outstanding CSEC performance did not come as a surprise to anyone at this institution.
It must not be interpreted though that the ride was an easy one. Success was inevitable, this though was only because of the preparatory work that was done. Rowan’s support staff included his close knit family unit, and his aide. They became extensions of the staff of QRC. His teachers had to be diligent, patient and resourceful. His classmates had to be understanding, flexible and open to new ideas, as students of the College. His Administrators were required to be open and to think outside of the box, as they creatively co-ordinated the entire educational experience.
Through it all though Rowan Mc Ewen taught us at QRC, as much as he learnt from us. He learnt that when surrounded by your loving family, anything is possible; and QRC became his extended family. He learnt to be resilient and to trust others, as he slowly broadened his personal circle and began socialising with others. Most importantly he learnt how to enjoy life, despite its numerous challenges and pitfalls.
As we flip the script, he taught us how to be patient, empathetic and how to live the life of inclusion. It is easy to speak of inclusion, it is far more difficult to live a life of inclusion. At QRC we learnt HOW to be inclusive, while having little or no resources to be properly outfitted to accommodate an individual such as Rowan. Yet, what we lacked in resources we made up with LOVE. We loved Rowan, and in return he loved us.
The journey through QRC still continues for all of us. However, this College has shown the world how to successfully educate a differently abled young man, while operating with a paucity of resources. Success became a possibility, simply because we understood that the most important resource of all is the HUMAN resource. The good will of the individuals of this community facilitated the transformation of this AUTISTIC boy to an “AWETISTIC” young man.
David Simon is a lifelong educator. He entered the Teaching Service in 1991, and remains an active member up to this day. At present he is the Principal of Queen’s Royal College, and has held this portfolio for the last seven years.
Simon has served at all levels in his profession of his choice. He began as a TIII,History/Social Studies,he then was promoted several times as he served as a Dean, Vice principal and eventually he was appointed as Principal of his alma mater.